Smart missiles

Because of the current proposed airstrikes on Syria, I was trying to remember where the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital was that was attacked in an airstrike fairly recently.

Now that these days we have ‘smart missiles’ and ‘smart bombs’ and ‘laser guided precision’ and assurances civilian casualties are avoided, I just wanted to check the details.

On Googling it I found:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Kunduz, Afghanistan – October 2015 – sustained air attack by USA – 42 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Maaret al-Numan, Syria – February 2016 – 2 raids by Syria or Russia – 7 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières children’s hospital – Azaz, Syria – February 2016 – ballistic missile from Russia – 10 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital -Hajjah, Yemen – August 2016 – airstrike by Saudi-coalition – 11 dead, hospital partially destroyed and closed down
  • Médecins Sans Frontières supported hospital – Saraqab City, Syria – January 2018 – 2 airstrikes – 5 dead, hospital closed down

They just go on and on.  Then I saw:

“In 2016, 32 MSF-supported medical facilities were bombed or shelled on 71 occasions. In 2015 we documented 94 attacks on 63 MSF-supported hospitals and clinics in Syria.”

It’s a good job there’s GPS and smart missiles and the like guaranteeing civilians don’t get killed in airstrikes.

An email to my MP: “Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria”

Subject: Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria

Dear Cat Smith MP,

You are my MP as I live at <my home address>.

Please do all you can to prevent the government escalating the situation in Syria.

The news this morning suggests the Prime Minister intends to carry out a military response to an alleged chemical attack which has not yet even been investigated.

  • After the recent embarrassment to Britain over the poisoning of the Russian agent and his daughter, I would have hoped the government would be more circumspect over this event.
  • The Syrian conflict is already a proxy war, where external agents are major players. The intervention by us now when the Syrian government appears to be winning is classic proxy war participant behaviour to attack the leading side to prolong the war. Even if this is not the case, it is how it is interpreted, and puts Britain in a very bad light.
  • A weak government is often perceived as being keen to go to war as a way to bolster support. Although that is a government fault, it reflects badly on us as a country reinforcing the impression that killing people overseas gets popular support from the British people.
  • Following the USA’s knee-jerk reaction an to international incident always makes Britain look weak, rather than making a powerful statement as claimed.
  • Following Donald Trump’s Twittered reaction to anything makes us look utterly ridiculous.
  • War should always be the last resort in diplomacy, not the first.
  • The poisoning, tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions, the misinformation over international events and accusations of false-flag actions are all very similar to activities in the Cold War. A military response at this time feels to me, as someone who remembers the tail end of the Cold War, a very dangerous escalation. The world still has nuclear weapons, I should dread for more generations to grow up under the fear of nuclear super-powers in a perpetual stand-off like that under which I grew up. It is crushing to ambition and hope for the future to know your life can be snuffed out by the whim of one’s own government or by an error in the nuclear command control. Please don’t let this government slide us back into the previous century.

I expect better arguments for not carrying out this strike will become apparent through the day.

As my elected representative, should the government bother to ask your opinion, please do all you can to communicate the foolishness of a violent escalation to the situation in Syria.

 

“Religious” violence

My response agreeing with someone’s post on an Open University blog:

Every conflict which has escalated into terrorism has ultimately been resolved by listening.  “I think there has to be a political solution.  All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.”  (Jeremy Corbyn)

I think you are right.  In this case it is not militant Islam that is the problem, that is the excuse.  It is the tool used by cowardly and genuinely evil people to get angry young men to commit murder and become suicide bombers.  It is the lazy branding used to explain the behaviour and ‘other’ those aligned with or sympathetic to their views.  But the claim that it is the cause or the causation is misinterpreting the situation; if it wasn’t religion making the divide it would be race or nationalism or political belief.

There were a lot of unhappy people in the Middle East cross with the Western world, united in a woolly concern about cultural imperialism or economics or tired of being sidelined or concerned about the future of the Middle East given an apparent bias in financial and political support to one particular country, or even a number of other things too.  And we weren’t listening, so the shouting got louder until a couple of buildings got destroyed in New York.  Given they were a global emblem of globalised capitalism I suspect we can take a guess at what the protest was about: cultural imperialism and the imposition of products, media output and values upon a number of closely-related societies who found those impositions increasingly intolerable.

And when protests are not heard, they get louder and louder until they go bang.

I am not aware of any great effort on the part of Western governments to say “Hmm.  There’s some unhappy people here.  Let’s find out what the problem is and come to an agreement.”  But there are many calling for airstrikes and selling weapons and destabilising governments and killing civilians.  And the protests are getting louder and more frequent.  The combined political view seems to be “The question is whether we can kill people who hate us at a faster rate than we make other people hate us by killing so many people.” (David Mitchell)

If there is a religion involved here, I fear it is the worship of Mammon or Plutus, or one of their many allies.

Why do otherwise sane people do this?

Do you mean the suicide bombers and murderers?  I think that is fairly easily answered; a lot has been researched and written in psychology and criminology about how people can be made to believe what our philosophy says is nonsense or wrong.

Do you mean those who recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip and despatch them?  The easiest ones to explain: power-hungry cowards who get a kick out of disruption.  ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ probably cover it.  Every terror group needs those, as does most nations I suspect – I bet there’s plenty work in the various secret services.  It’s just these ones are the baddies and ours are the goodies.

Or do you mean the government leaders who believe airstrikes really are accurate, that military intelligence from foreign agents is never unreliable, that killing people because they hold a different passport is morally good, that killing people will make the related survivors more friendly, that using their land for our proxy wars won’t upset anyone?  The sort of people who proudly proclaim they would conduct the first strike to start a nuclear conflict?

We need to UNDERSTAND violent, militant Islamism – and writing if off as a form of insanity is simply an admission that we don’t understand it.

I agree.  Coming to the realisation that you have no option left to make your voice heard other than kill yourself and take others with you, is a very sane act.  When done in our name we consider it the highest form of self-sacrifice and heroism.  And it is done to make a point, whether it is holding out one’s hand in the flames when being burned at the stake for religious freedom, dousing one’s self in petrol and self-immolating for national freedom or any of the people who have died on hunger strike in prison.  These people are not killing themselves and others because they are insane.  They are trying to make a point, to be heard, a final desperate act in the hope their life can mean something by throwing it away.  Or rather they are the poor unwitting victims of the militant section of a much larger unhappy group of people.  It is that larger group who need to be heard.

But I don’t think we know who that group are.  And I’m not sure we’re even asking the question.

The Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict

I noticed this on the 1974 entry on Wikipedia’s page Timeline of women’s legal rights (other than voting):

Article 1 of the declaration specifically prohibits bombing of civilian populations.

Article 5 of the declaration requires countries to recognise the destruction of dwellings as a criminal act.

This applies to all member states of the United Nations and has since 1974.

Think on that when you see news stories of wedding parties being hit by drones or see destroyed apartment blocks and homes in the Middle East.

If these are war crimes, who are the criminals and where are the trials?

Principles of Just-War Theory

Lynn Roulstone at the Open University raised the questionsWhat do we think to Aquinas’s Just War theory?  Is it ever possible to have such a thing?” and provided a link to a short explanation of the seven principles of Just-War Theory.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by them and this was my response:

1. Last Resort
Sartre, Ghandi and Jesus said a violent response need not be the final resort.  Deciding not to use violence is also an available option.  It was certainly the best way for your civilisation to survive an invasion by the Roman empire, the Mongol hordes or many other invading forces who purpose was to subjugate.

2. Legitimate Authority
We have a representative democracy so if Tony Bliar decides to start a war despite dodgy evidence and 3 million people protesting, he is perfectly entitled.  If Obama declares war on Mexico tomorrow, he has legal, personal, absolute authority to do so under USA law.

3. Just Cause
Righting a wrong done to A committed by B by killing C is as logical as bombing for peace.  It just results in tit-for-tat feuds that need never end.

4. Probability of Success
If it is wrong to fight in case you lose – and there is always the possibility of unexpectedly losing – then one should not fight.  Conversely, if one has such overwhelming power that victory is inevitable, there must be diplomatic alternatives to using overwhelming violence.

5. Right Intention
A hollow argument.  The victor is always right, after the event.  Also, if the intention of war is to re-establish peace, then the best outcome is genocide of one’s enemies and destruction of their culture since that best guarantees peace.

6. Proportionality
The minimum amount of force absolutely necessary is often the assassination of one person or one dynastic line.  However, international conventions have long, long agreed that targeted execution of the leaders of sovereign states is against the rules.  Killing millions of the people who happen to live in the same country is OK though.

7. Civilian Casualties
The concept of total war (which is thousands of years old) means that the economy and production ability of the enemy are part of the war machine and valid targets.  Bombing dams to flood valleys is fine.  Armaments factories employ civilians as do the mines and refineries that serve them.  There is no point continuously killing their soldiers if they just keep breeding and equipping more – one must raze their cities, salt their fields, sabotage their infrastructure and starve the population into defeat.  The civilian capacity to raise armies must be destroyed.  The alternative is to not use total war, but then you lose to someone who is.

I do not see how there can be a just war.  Expedient, yes, but just, no.

What happens now about the burning Syrian oil fields?

The oil wells currently being blown up in Syria and being used by IS should have been dealt with months ago.  This has been said by quiet lone voices but only became newsworthy just this past week as the airstrikes against them began.

We know from the 2nd Gulf War that these will burn and continue to burn until the fighting is over.  Presumably, if IS somehow manage to put out and cap a well, it will become a target again and this continue until the territory is retaken.

This will mean months, or years, of the burning of crude oil polluting the local land indefinitely and air downwind for the duration, which the government cautiously warns will be three years or more.

What a waste of an irreplaceable commodity.  What a filthy, highly carcinogenic, CO2-filled cloud it will produce.

And the workers at these oilfields are not going to be AK47-wielding jihadists but the same oil-field workers who were there before.  Civilians.  Likely doing their job at gun-point now.  Now being blown up or burned to death by our bombing.  Airstrikes kill civilians.

War is great, innit?  Lovely grainy black-and-white pictures of something going “Puff” from 12,000 feet up reported as the good work of terrorists being dealt with, when actually it is just destruction and killing and maiming and polluting.

About 300 to 1,000 civilians were killed in Iraq for each person killed in the Twin Towers terrorist attack.  I wonder what the kill ratio will be for the Paris terrorist attack.  At that rate it will need to be about 39,000 to 130,000 ‘collateral’ civilian deaths.

62 workers were caught up in the recent Azerbaijan oil rig fire accident, of whom half are likely dead.  It is looking like a tragedy caused by lax safety measures and a violent storm.  Bad enough, but still not as bad as the awful, no, horrific Piper Alpha disaster which took 167 of the 228 lives on board.

Syria has about 40 oil fields with a number of wells per field but I cannot find the latter number – shall we assume 10?  Assuming 62 workers per well (as they are all land-based, I believe) that gives us 34,800 civilian workers as potential death targets of the oil well bombings.  That’s a ratio of 190 civilian deaths for each Parisian victim.  I wonder if that will be enough to satiate the politicians’ blood lust?  If not, there’s the fire control crews, the replacement workers for wells that are put put and repaired, pipeline maintenance crews, pumping station crews, management and admin offices and all manner of other support and ancillary staff who come under the heading of ‘infrastructure’.

I’m sure that with a bit of effort—killing the accountants, secretaries, maintenance staff and cleaners too—it ought to be possible to get up to the same kill ratio of 300 foreign civilians to victim as was achieved in Iraq.

Do think on that when being impressed by those grainy, black-and-white videos taken from long range – that ‘infrastructure’ includes the people who work there, leaving their widows, angry fathers and brothers and embittered children ready to refresh the ranks of IS or produce the next generation of terrorists.

Assuming the cancer from the oily black smoke doesn’t deal with them first, of course.

Confidence in our leaders

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the RAF would move to round-the-clock bombing raids and taunted the terrorists that they will enjoy no respite at Christmas.
Daily Mail.

I wonder if someone should tell him IS are Moslem extremists and, as such, probably don’t book a week off for Christmas to scoff pigs in blankets and quaff sherry.

Still, I shouldn’t be nasty.  Peace and good will to all men, and all that.

“We were only following (the UN’s) orders.”

Another OU student made this observation on his blog:

The whole Authoritarianism thing a complete area on its own as there is a definite case of further investigation needed into why socially superior society accepts these individuals as authority.

which prompted these thoughts:

I did a Coursera course on international criminal law which talked about how the “I was only following orders” defence was challenged at the Nuremberg Trials and created a precedent for international justice by rejecting it.  I find that whole history—from Nuremberg to modern day decisions about what legal action can be taken across borders—fascinating.  We now have continental courts of justice and war trials procedures and all sorts of good stuff to improve the safety and security of (most) everyone on the planet from abuses by their own government.

But the pendulum seems to have swung the other way from the principal established in the mid-1600s of sovereign states having absolute control of internal affairs, (“Westphalian Sovereignty”) to NATO saying the Westphalian principles are undemocratic and humanity is not relevant and then Tony Bliar simply called it anachronistic and that you can therefore attack who you like with impunity which, it appears, he could.

When I take a step back and look at the last 1,000 years of European history, it seems in this past 20 years we have undone the work of the preceding 350 in a supposed pursuit of justice on behalf of the citizens of other countries.  We have scrapped the idea of governments killing their own citizens and replaced it with it being OK to kill the civilians of other countries.

The victims of the Nazis got justice (as much was practically possible, anyway) at Nuremberg.  But where do civilians killed by Western airstrikes get their justice?  As Hilary Benn said yesterday: “Ve are only folloving ze orders of ze United Nations!”

So that’s all right then.

As for accepting authority, the Milgram Experiment was the one where unwitting volunteers were talked into electrocuting people to death because the bloke in the white coat told them to.

When Hilary Benn¹ gave his speech, the bit about “We are only following a UN mandate” was the bit that won over the MPs: knowledge that whatever happens, not only does their collective responsibility mean they are only a tiny bit to blame if things go wrong, it was all the UN’s idea anyway.  They can vote for war and airstrikes that will kill civilians² with impunity.

Maybe that right there is a very good argument for our elected representatives to be held responsible for their actions, not just those of countries we don’t like, and I don’t mean at the ballot box.  Maybe we should be sending our war criminals to trial as a lesson to the others.  Maybe the MPs will cheer less than they did last night when they voted for war.

 

¹ The son of Tony Benn, the man who said “When there is a great cry that something should be done, you can depend on it that something remarkably silly probably will be done“.

² The first targets are to be oil fields and related infrastructure.  These are operated by civilians.  (Why weren’t these destroyed over a year ago?  Oh, yeah, the oil has to keep flowing, doesn’t it?  Even if it is bankrolling Islamic State.  Until it ends up all over the media that Israel and Turkey are cheerfully buying it for sale to the world market.  But it’s not all about oil, oh no…)

Not in my name

The decision in the House of Commons today was the wrong one.  I hardly know where to begin with the reasons why.

But I can tell you the causation for the decision: political incompetence and ignorance, which is why I want to study peace studies and get into a position where I can influence stupid (because they are) MPs.

This is why we are about to kill more moslem civilians and create more anti-West sentiment:

(a) Something must be done.
(b) Airstrikes are something.
(c) Airstrikes will be done.

The problem with collective responsibility is that nobody takes responsibility.

And, Mr Corbyn, you were wrong to permit a free vote.  That will end your career as party leader before this week is out.  Your adherence to the party was greater than your adherence to your principles, and that is why you are not a great man.  Sorry, dude.  I was with you until you blinked.  But thanks for having a go.  Rather than listen to the self-serving and mercenary political advisers, you should have rallied the academics and used them to defeat the debate in advance with facts and case studies.  The Tories will always be better at rhetoric, they do it at school.  You should have used evidence.